Memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Taegŏn, priest and martyr and Saint Paul Chŏng Hasang, martyr, and their companions, martyrs
Many of us are familiar with and inspired by the stories of heroic men and women who have lived remarkable lives of faith. Their witness to Christ and to God’s presence in the world model for us various ways to be faithful disciples of Jesus. The saints we celebrate today are just such wonderful people. They are St. Andrew Kim Taegon, St. Paul Chong Hasang and their companions. They were all martyred during the major persecutions of the Christian community in 19th century Korea. St. Andrew is singled out from the group because he was the first Korean Catholic Priest and St. Paul Chong Ha Sang was an important lay leader and catechist during that time. It would seem that the “companions” were ordinary, everyday Catholics rounded up by the government in its attempt to stamp out the Christian faith. All were put to death in a most violent and public way.
By the time these Catholics were martyred, Christianity had been growing in Korea for more than seventy-five years. It is believed that Christianity had been brought into Korea by some Christian Japanese soldiers in the latter part of the 18th century. The Christian Japanese soldiers baptized the first Korean Christians and the Christian community began to grow quickly. By the time the first foreign priest arrived in Korea in 1836 there was already a substantial Christian community flourishing there. The Korean Catholic Church is the only known Catholic Christian community that first developed completely from the witness and work of lay Christians.
The rulers in Korea were not at all pleased to have this foreign religion thriving in their country. At first they just discouraged it but soon enough outlawed this practice and began to actively persecute anyone who took it up. As Christians were arrested, tortured and put to death the Church quickly moved underground
St. Andrew’s parents, members of the Korean nobility, were an important part of that early community and secretly remained faithful to their life with Christ. Andrew, born in 1821, was baptized at fifteen and soon expressed his desire to become a priest. He traveled to Macau to attend the seminary and was ordained in 1845. He was the first Korean to become a priest and returned home shortly after his ordination to help organize the Church and bring the sacraments to the faithful. He ministered in Korea only a year before he was arrested and put to death.
There were intense persecutions of Christians in Korea in 1839, 1846, 1866 and 1867 and 103 Christians were martyred for their faith. We celebrate these heroic martyrs on this day.
May their faith and courage inspire us to live our lives faithful to the Gospel and have the strength to be fearless witness for Christ in our everyday lives.
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.